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Archive for March 12th, 2011

Supermoon may cause natural disasters next week

Posted by Admin on March 12, 2011

http://in.news.yahoo.com/blogs/geewhiz/supermoon-may-cause-natural-disasters-next-week-20110309-020911-225.html

By Clint Thomas | Gee Whiz! – Wed, Mar 9, 2011 3:39 PM IST

On March 19th 2011, the moon will make its closest approach to Earth in almost 20 years, possibly triggering earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other disasters.

The phenomenon, called lunar perigee or Supermoon, happens when the moon reaches its absolute closest point to Earth. On March 19, the natural satellite will be only 221,567 miles away from our planet.

There were Supermoons in 1955, 1974, 1992 and 2005, and these years had their share of extreme weather conditions, too. Although there are scientific laws that say the moon affects the Earth, it’s still ambiguous whether the lunar perigee and natural disasters is coincidence or not.

British freelance weatherman John Kettley was quoted as saying “A moon can’t cause a geological event like an earthquake, but it will cause a difference to the tide. If that combines with certain weather conditions, then that could cause a few problems for coastal areas.”

Neo Earth Close Approach Tables By NASA

 

While hoping for a non-disastrous ‘moon giant’, point your eyes and camera lenses toward the night sky on 19th. If the sky is clear, you’re gonna get an exceptional celestial treat.

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Scenes of devastation at heart of Japan disaster

Posted by Admin on March 12, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110312/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_devastation

By JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press Jay Alabaster, Associated Press Sat Mar 12, 8:38 am ET

SENDAI, Japan – Miles from the ocean’s edge, weary, mud-spattered survivors wandered streets strewn with fallen trees, crumpled cars, even small airplanes. Relics of lives now destroyed were everywhere — half a piano, a textbook, a soiled red sleeping bag.

On Saturday, a day after a massive tsunami tore through Sendai, residents surveyed the devastation that has laid waste to whole sections of the northern port of 1 million people, 80 miles (128 kilometers) from the epicenter of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that set off one of the greatest disasters in Japan‘s history.

Rescue workers plied boats through murky waters around flooded structures, nosing their way through a sea of detritus, while smoke from at least one large fire billowed in the distance. Power and phone reception remained cut as the city continued to be jolted by powerful aftershocks.

A still unknown number of people perished. Police said they found 200 to 300 bodies washed up on nearby beaches, but authorities were still assessing the extent of the devastation in the city and along the nearby coast.

Rail operators lost contact with four trains running on coastal lines Friday and still had not found them by Saturday afternoon, Kyodo News agency reported. East Japan Railway Co. said it did not know how many people were aboard.

Overall, the country’s official death toll stood at 574, although local media reports said at least 1,300 people may have been killed. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 50,000 troops would join rescue and recovery efforts, and rescuers still had not reached some of the hardest-hit areas by late Saturday, some 30 hours after the quake.

Hundreds of people lined up outside the few still-operating supermarkets in Sendai, stocking up on drinks and instant noodles, knowing it would be a long time before life returns to anything like normal. Some recalled how they cheated death as the massive waves swept some 6 miles (10 kilometers) inland.

A convenience store 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the shore was open for business, though there was no power and the floors were covered with a thick layer of grime.

“The flood came in from behind the store and swept around both sides,” said shop owner Wakio Fushima. “Cars were flowing right by.”

Many Sendai residents spent the night outdoors, or wandering debris-strewn streets, unable to return to homes damaged or destroyed by the quake or tsunami. Those who did find a place to rest for the night awoke to scenes of utter devastation.

The city’s Wakabayashi district, which runs directly up to the sea, was a swampy wasteland with murky, waist-high water. Most houses were completely flattened, as if a giant bulldozer had swept through.

Satako Yusawa, 69, said she has felt many earthquakes but never anything like what hit Friday afternoon.

“I was having tea at a friend’s house when the quake hit. We were desperately trying to hold the furniture up, but the shaking was so fierce that we just panicked,” she said.

She said her son had just borrowed a large amount of money to build a house, and the family moved in on Feb. 11. Luckily, he was out of town when the quake and tsunami hit, but on Saturday they couldn’t find the house, or even where it used to stand.

Yusawa broke into tears as she looked out over the devastation.

“This is life,” she said.

At an electronics story in the city, workers gave away batteries, flashlights and cell phone chargers. Several dozen people waited patiently outside.

From a distance, the store appeared to have survived the devastation intact. But a closer look revealed several smashed windows and slightly buckled walls.

Inside was chaos. The ceiling of the second floor had collapsed, and large TVs, air conditioners and other products lay smashed and strewn about the aisles.

The contents of the entire building were soaked by the automatic sprinklers that were triggered by the quake.

“Things were shaking so much we couldn’t stand up,” said Hiroyuki Kamada, who was working in the store when the initial quake hit. “After three or four minutes it lessened a bit and we dashed outside.”

The tsunami directly hit the city’s dock area and then barreled down a long approach road, carrying giant metal shipping containers about a mile (2 kilometers) inland and smashing buildings along the way.

Hundreds of cars and trucks were strewn throughout the area — on top of buildings, wedged into stairwells, standing on their noses or leaning against each other as if in prayer.

Most ships in port managed to escape to sea before the tsunami hit, but a large Korean ship was swept onto the dock.

Most buildings out of range of the tsunami appeared to have survived the quake without much damage, though some older wooden structures were toppled. Paved roads had buckled in some places.

Cell phone saleswoman Naomi Ishizawa, 24, was working when the quake hit in the mid afternoon. She said it took until nightfall to reach her house just outside Sendai and check on her parents, who were both OK. Their home was still standing, but the walls of a bedroom and bathroom had collapsed and debris was strewn throughout.

And yet, she was lucky. The tsunami’s inland march stopped just short of her residence; other houses in her neighborhood were totally destroyed.

Like many people throughout Japan’s northeast, she had not heard from others in her family and was worried.

“My uncle and his family live in an area near the shore where there were a lot of deaths,” Ishizawa said. “We can’t reach them.”

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Blast at Japan nuke plant; thousands missing

Posted by Admin on March 12, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110312/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By ERIC TALMADGE and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press Eric Talmadge And Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press 3 mins ago

IWAKI, Japan – An explosion shattered a building housing a nuclear reactor Saturday, amid fears of a meltdown, while across wide swaths of northeastern Japan officials searched for thousands of people missing more than a day after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The confirmed death toll from Friday’s twin disasters was 686, but the government’s chief spokesman said it could exceed 1,000. Devastation stretched hundreds of miles (kilometers) along the coast, where thousands of hungry survivors huddled in darkened emergency centers cut off from rescuers, electricity and aid.

The scale of destruction was not yet known, but there were grim signs that the death toll could soar. One report said four whole trains had disappeared Friday and still not been located. Others said 9,500 people in one coastal town were unaccounted for and that at least 200 bodies had washed ashore elsewhere.

Atsushi Ito, an official in Miyagi prefecture, among the worst hit states, could not confirm those figures, noting that with so little access to the area, thousands of people in scores of town could not be contacted or accounted for.

“Our estimates based on reported cases alone suggest that more than 1,000 people have lost their lives in the disaster,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. “Unfortunately, the actual damage could far exceed that number considering the difficulty assessing the full extent of damage.”

Among the most worrying developments was concerns that a nuclear reacter could melt down. Edano said Saturdya’s explosion was caused by vented hydrogen gas and destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor.

Edano said the radiation around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had not risen after the blast, but had in fact decreased.

Three people being evacuated from an area near the plant have been exposed to radiation, Yoshinori Baba, a Fukushima prefectural disaster official, confirmed. But he said they showed no signs of illness.

Virtually any increase in ambient radiation can raise long-term cancer rates, and authorities were planning to distribute iodine, which helps protect against thyroid cancer.

Authorities have also evacuated people from a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the reactor.

The explosion was caused by hydrogen interacting with oxygen outside the reactor. The hydrogen was formed when the superheated fuel rods came in contact with water being poured over it to prevent a meltdown.

“They are working furiously to find a solution to cool the core, and this afternoon in Europe we heard that they have begun to inject sea water into the core,” said Mark Hibbs, a senior associate at the Nuclear Policy Program for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “That is an indication of how serious the problem is and how the Japanese had to resort to unusual and improvised solutions to cool the reactor core.”

Officials have said that radiation levels were elevated before the blast: At one point, the plant was releasing each hour the amount of radiation a person normally absorbs from the environment each year.

The explosion was preceded by puff of white smoke that gathered intensity until it became a huge cloud enveloping the entire facility, located in Fukushima, 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Iwaki. After the explosion, the walls of the building crumbled, leaving only a skeletal metal frame.

Tokyo Power Electric Co., the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, said four workers suffered fractures and bruises and were being treated at a hospital.

The trouble began at the plant’s Unit 1 after the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it spawned knocked out power there, depriving it of its cooling system.

Power was knocked out by the quake in large areas of Japan, which has requested increased energy supplies from Russia, Russia’s RIA Novosti agency reported.

The concerns about a radiation leak at the nuclear power plant overshadowed the massive tragedy laid out along a 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometer) stretch of the coastline where scores of villages, towns and cities were battered by the tsunami, packing 23-feet (7-meter) high waves.

It swept inland about six miles (10 kilometers) in some areas, swallowing boats, homes, cars, trees and everything else.

“The tsunami was unbelievably fast,” said Koichi Takairin, a 34-year-old truck driver who was inside his sturdy four-ton rig when the wave hit the port town of Sendai.

“Smaller cars were being swept around me,” he said. “All I could do was sit in my truck.”

His rig ruined, he joined the steady flow of survivors who walked along the road away from the sea and back into the city on Saturday.

Smashed cars and small airplanes were jumbled up against buildings near the local airport, several miles (kilometers) from the shore. Felled trees and wooden debris lay everywhere as rescue workers coasted on boats through murky waters around flooded structures, nosing their way through a sea of debris.

Late Saturday night, firefighters had yet to contain a large blaze at the Cosmo Oil refinery in the city of Ichihara.

According to official figures, 642 people are missing and missing 1,426 injured.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 50,000 troops joined rescue and recovery efforts, aided by boats and helicopters. Dozens of countries also offered help.

President Barack Obama pledged U.S. assistance following what he called a potentially “catastrophic” disaster. He said one U.S. aircraft carrier was already in Japan and a second was on its way.

More than 215,000 people were living in 1,350 temporary shelters in five prefectures, the national police agency said.

Aid has barely begun to trickle into many areas.

“All we have to eat are biscuits and rice balls,” said Noboru Uehara, 24, a delivery truck driver who was wrapped in a blanket against the cold at center in Iwake. “I’m worried that we will run out of food.”

Since the quake, more than 1 million households have not had water, mostly concentrated in northeast. Some 4 million buildings were without power.

About 24 percent of electricity in Japan is produced by 55 nuclear power units in 17 plants and some were in trouble after the quake.

Japan declared states of emergency at two power plants after their units lost cooling ability.

Although the government spokesman played down fears of radiation leak, the Japanese nuclear agency spokesman Shinji Kinjo acknowledged there were still fears of a meltdown.

A “meltdown” is not a technical term. Rather, it is an informal way of referring to a very serious collapse of a power plant’s systems and its ability to manage temperatures.

Yaroslov Shtrombakh, a Russian nuclear expert, said a Chernobyl-style meltdown was unlikely.

“It’s not a fast reaction like at Chernobyl,” he said. “I think that everything will be contained within the grounds, and there will be no big catastrophe.”

In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded and caught fire, sending a cloud of radiation over much of Europe. That reactor — unlike the Fukushima one — was not housed in a sealed container, so there was no way to contain the radiation once the reactor exploded.

The reactor in trouble has already leaked some radiation: Before the explosion, operators had detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility and 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1’s control room.

An evacuation area around the plant was expanded to a radius of 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the six miles (10 kilometers) before. People in the expanded area were advised to leave quickly; 51,000 residents were previously evacuated.

“Everyone wants to get out of the town. But the roads are terrible,” said Reiko Takagi, a middle-aged woman, standing outside a taxi company. “It is too dangerous to go anywhere. But we are afraid that winds may change and bring radiation toward us.”

The transport ministry said all highways from Tokyo leading to quake-hit areas were closed, except for emergency vehicles. Mobile communications were spotty and calls to the devastated areas were going unanswered.

Local TV stations broadcast footage of people lining up for water and food such as rice balls. In Fukushima, city officials were handing out bottled drinks, snacks and blankets. But there were large areas that were surrounded by water and were unreachable.

One hospital in Miyagi prefecture was seen surrounded by water. The staff had painted an SOS on its rooftop and were waving white flags.

Technologically advanced Japan is well prepared for quakes and its buildings can withstand strong jolts, even a temblor like Friday’s, which was the strongest the country has experienced since official records started in the late 1800s. What was beyond human control was the killer tsunami that followed.

Japan’s worst previous quake was a magnitude 8.3 temblor in Kanto that killed 143,000 people in 1923, according to the USGS. A magnitude 7.2 quake in Kobe killed 6,400 people in 1995.

Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire” — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching around the Pacific where about 90 percent of the world’s quakes occur, including the one that triggered the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 12 countries. A magnitude-8.8 quake that shook central Chile in February 2010 also generated a tsunami and killed 524 people.

___

Kageyama reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers Malcolm J. Foster, Mari Yamaguchi, Tomoko A. Hosaka and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo, Jay Alabaster in Sendai, Sylvia Hui in London, David Nowak in Moscow, and Margie Mason in Hanoi also contributed.

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